Overlockers Buyers Guide

A common misconception is that an overlocker will do everything that a sewing machine will do and more. Overlockers are professional machines which are used together with a sewing machine and not instead of a sewing machine.

Although they can be quite versatile, the basic task of an overlocker is to trim and wrap the edge of the fabric, preventing it from fraying. The overlock stitch can be seen in the construction of most factory made garments.

They can also be used for sewing seams, rolled hems, attaching tape, elastic, beads, etc and blind hemming. However, some tasks require special attachments and not all attachments are available for all overlockers, especially the lower priced models.

The process of choosing an overlocker is different from a sewing machine. Where as the price of a sewing machine increases as the capability and amount of features increase, features available with an overlocker are not as extensive. Instead, most overlockers will perform similar tasks but the more expensive overlockers will cope better with difficult fabrics and will also be easier to thread.


Under £200.00

These overlockers are ideal for general domestic situations.

A 4 thread machine which can be converted to be used as a 3 or 4 thread and it will have a differential feed. Other standard features are an easy to follow colour coded thread path, adjustable stitch length and cutting width and an instructional video or DVD will be included.

It may also have an easy change rolled hem device and include some extra attachments.

£200.00 - £300.00

These overlockers will include all the features of the previous price range plus be capable of trimming and overlocking a wide range of fabrics from delicate lightweights to heavy soft furnishings.

The tensions units will be the "lay in" type and the left looper will have an easy threading device.

As well a 3 or 4 thread combinations, it may be capable of being used with just 2 threads and it will have an easy change rolled hem.

Over £300.00

These overlockers are serious professional machines which will be of solid construction and capable of daily use. They may have unique features such as the Babylock Jet Airs which "blow" the thread through the guides (or tubes as they are on those models), computer controlled or automatic tensions which adjust for various stitch combinations and built in cover hem.

3, 4, 5 or even 8 thread

As the price of overlockers has come down, 3 thread overlockers have largely been discontinued with 4 thread machines replacing them as the entry models.

Not every task requires 4 threads to be used so 4 thread overlockers can be used with only 3 threads and some of the more expensive models can be used with 2, 3 or 4 threads.

5 thread machines are even more versatile offering a variety of stitch combinations and the Babylock Evolve has 8 threads offering almost endless combinations.


Where as a sewing machine has a top thread and a bobbin thread underneath, an overlocker doesn’t.

A 4 thread overlocker, for example, will have 2 needle threads and 2 looper threads. The needle threading is similar to that of a sewing machine but the loopers are instead of a bobbin.

A right (or upper) looper is again, straight forward to thread but may require tweezers (included with every overlocker). To thread the left (lower) looper may require tweezers or may have an easy threading device.

Threading is often the biggest concern for customers buying their first overlocker but every overlocker displays a colour coded thread path and they also come with a video or DVD and a fully illustrated instruction book.

The easiest way to rethread an overlocker (although often frowned upon by some demonstrators as they say the customer doesn’t learn to thread their machine) is to cut the threads at the back and tie on the new colour. The threads can then be pulled individually through the guides.


Each thread has its own numbered tension control (same colour as the appropriate thread path) which are factory set for a balanced stitch and it is helpful to make a note of these numbers for future reference.

The entry models have the "wrap around" front tensions which are on the front of the machine and providing the user makes sure that the thread is located correctly in the tension unit, threading is straight forward.

The mid to upper range machines have the more user friendly "lay in" tensions which are situated along the top of the machine.

Stitch Combinations

2 thread

Uses one needle and the left (lower) looper threaded. This stitch is the most basic form of overedging and simply wraps the edge. Ideal for situations where you don’t want the edge to be too bulky. However, the seam will not be secure and a lockstitch would be required.

3 thread

Uses one needle and both loopers. This stitch is ideal for overedging single layers but will need a lockstitch for secure seams.

4 thread

The most popular combination using 2 needles and 2 loopers. This can be used to sew secure seams as the second needle acts as a safety stitch preventing the seam from coming undone.

5 thread

These can have a variety of combinations but the most popular gives a straight chain stitch away from the overedging stitches.

Differential Feed

Every full size overlocker on the market today has a differential feed but, although it can help to give a neater finish, it is often neglected.

This feature adjusts one of two individual feed dogs and by doing so, gives better results when overlocking lightweight or stretch fabrics.

When stretch fabrics are overlocked using a machine with a standard feed, the fabric may appear wavy and fluted. By adjusting the differential feed, the edge will be flat and the finish will be neater.

Similarly, lightweight fabrics may be puckered after overlocking but this will be corrected by adjusting the differential feed.

Rolled Hem

This finish is ideal for lightweight fabrics, especially bridal.

It is achieved by using one needle, three threads and by adjusting the tensions and using a very short stitch length, the edge of the fabric will roll over and is encased by the closed up stitching.

Cover Hem

This stitch can only be achieved using a cover hem only machine or a combined overlocker and cover hem machine.

Used mainly for hemming and covering a raw edge in one operation, the stitch wraps the edge under the fabric and has double or triple lines of stitching on the right side.